Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

"As more states legalize marijuana, adolescents' problems with pot decline: Fewer adolescents also report using marijuana"

Journal-american-academy-childThe title of this post is the headline of this notable Science Daily release that reports on this notable newly published research in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry that surely should be getting lots and lots of attention from marijuana reform advocates.  Here are the basics via the Science Daily:

A survey of more than 216,000 adolescents from all 50 states indicates the number of teens with marijuana-related problems is declining. Similarly, the rates of marijuana use by young people are falling despite the fact more U.S. states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use and the number of adults using the drug has increased.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis examined data on drug use collected from young people, ages 12 to 17, over a 12-year span. They found that the number of adolescents who had problems related to marijuana -- such as becoming dependent on the drug or having trouble in school and in relationships -- declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013.

Over the same period, kids, when asked whether they had used pot in the previous 12 months, reported fewer instances of marijuana use in 2013 than their peers had reported in 2002. In all, the rate fell by 10 percent. Those drops were accompanied by reductions in behavioral problems, including fighting, property crimes and selling drugs. The researchers found that the two trends are connected. As kids became less likely to engage in problem behaviors, they also became less likely to have problems with marijuana.

The study's first author, Richard A. Grucza, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry, explained that those behavioral problems often are signs of childhood psychiatric disorders. "We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse," he said. "We don't know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence. But whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization."

The new study is published in the June issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. The data was gathered as part of a confidential, computerized study called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It surveys young people from different racial, ethnic and income groups in all 50 states about their drug use, abuse and dependence.

In 2002, just over 16 percent of those 12 to 17 reported using marijuana during the previous year. That number fell to below 14 percent by 2013. Meanwhile, the percentage of young people with marijuana-use disorders declined from around 4 percent to about 3 percent.

At the same time, the number of kids in the study who reported having serious behavior problems -- such as getting into fights, shoplifting, bringing weapons to school or selling drugs -- also declined over the 12-year study period. "Other research shows that psychiatric disorders earlier in childhood are strong predictors of marijuana use later on," Grucza said. "So it's likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems -- and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too."

May 24, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Notable commentary highlights how "Legalized Pot, Free Trade" could significantly improve US-Mexico interactions

USThis notable new New York Times commentary, authored by Ioan Grillomay and headlined "Legalized Pot, Free Trade," highlights some international benefits that could and should flow from modenr marijuana reform efforts. Here are excerpts:

Speaking last month at the United Nations special session on drugs, President Enrique Peña Nieto said he wanted to relax the nation’s marijuana laws.  He has since sent Mexico’s Congress a bill to legalize medicine that contains cannabis, allow people to carry an ounce of marijuana without being prosecuted, and free some prisoners convicted on marijuana charges.  “We Mexicans know all too well the range and the defects of prohibitionist and punitive policies, and of the so-called war on drugs that has prevailed for 40 years,” he said.

Mr. Peña Nieto is new to the drug-reform game. Only last year, he said he was against legalizing marijuana, and at one point said he was not even going to attend the United Nations session.

What happened?  He seems to have realized (or been advised) that it is better to be on the side of inevitable change.  The proposal follows the rapid loosening of drug laws in the United States: Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical and recreational marijuana, and 20 more states now permit it as medicine.  The president’s shift also follows a November ruling by Mexico’s Supreme Court, which held that the government had no constitutional right to arrest people for their “civil right” of growing cannabis.

And more is coming soon.  In November, Californians could vote on an initiative to legalize marijuana.  If America’s richest state, and one on the border, votes yes, it will have a huge impact on Mexico.  Why would the Mexican government want to crack down on traffickers taking marijuana into California if it were fully legal there?

Various Mexican politicians and activists have come out in favor of wider marijuana legalization. Among them, the opposition senator Mario Delgado has proposed the decriminalization and regulation of cultivation, production and sales across Mexico. The former president Vicente Fox also supports this idea. Mr. Peña Nieto’s proposals make sense, but there’s even more to be done. The current bill would effectively allow cannabis consumption, but it would leave most of the production and selling of it to the black market — which means largely in the hands of drug cartels.

Marijuana reform in the United States has already eaten into the business of Mexican cartels. In 2011, the year before Colorado and Washington State legalized it, the United States border patrol seized 2.5 million pounds of cannabis coming from Mexico.  Last year, with marijuana legal in four states and the District of Columbia, that had fallen to 1.5 million pounds.

However, even the latest number indicates that a significant amount of marijuana is still being smuggled north. The profits pay the cartels’ assassins, as well as corrupt police officers and soldiers, who discard piles of bodies across Mexico. Amid these changing dynamics, it becomes more and more pointless for Mexican soldiers (underwritten by the United States, through the Merida Initiative) to keep up the ritual of burning marijuana crops. What is needed, then, is for both countries to move from the current mishmash of laws toward the inevitable conclusion: that marijuana becomes a legalized product that can be traded over borders.

The same market forces that shape the trade in liquor or tobacco will shape the trade in marijuana. Like those, it generates major profits for the formal economy.  A research group predicts the legalized marijuana market in the United States will be worth more than $6 billion this year, rising to more than $20 billion by 2020.  That could be a boon for the Mexican and United States economies.

A regulated marijuana market won’t suddenly end the bloodshed in Mexico. Cartels would still traffic cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. The cartels have also diversified to kidnapping, extortion and even oil theft, crimes that can be dealt with only by markedly improved Mexican police forces. But marijuana reform will help immensely. Many in the ranks of Mexican cartels take their first step into the crime world by growing, smuggling or selling pot. That link would be cut, and legal jobs created. Mexican security forces could finally leave the marijuana issue behind to focus on real problems.

The United Nations special session on drugs was heavy on empty talk, but several positive things came out of it. One was that there is no appetite to make countries abide by the United Nations treaties that prohibit the legalization of marijuana. Another is that a range of voices across the world are calling for a new approach to drug policy. The growth of a legalized, binational marijuana market would be a step toward turning those calls into reality.

May 21, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Even among skeptics, benefits of marijuana reform seem to eclipse drawbacks in Colorado

Colorado.first_.to_.legalize.250-1I am a fairly strong proponent of marijuana reforms in large part because there seem to be a number of tangible immediate benefits from legalizating, regulating and taxing the marijuana marketplace, while significant drawbacks rarely prove to be as dire as predicted by opponents of reform.   Two new stories in major newspapers today discussing developments in Colorado reinforce my views. Here are headlines, links and exceepts:

From USA Today here, "These kids are going to college on pot": 

Colorado pot smokers are helping send 25 students to college, the first scholarships in the U.S. funded with taxes on legal marijuana.  The awards offered by Pueblo County, in southern Colorado, are the latest windfall from legal Colorado marijuana sales that are also helping build schools and aid the homeless — and in one county, providing 8% raises to municipal workers.

Pueblo County is granting $1,000 each to the students, with recipients to be announced later this month.  “It’s incredible,” said Beverly Duran, the executive director of the Pueblo Hispanic Education Foundation, which is overseeing the scholarships.  "Every year we get a nice pool of students … but we can always only award to a small percentage.  This for us expands that to extraordinary lengths.”...

Further south in Colorado, Huerfano County expects to collect an extra $500,000 in cannabis taxes this year. That’s bankrolling an 8% raise for almost all of the county's 96 municipal employees, a big deal in an area where a county road worker earns $12 an hour and most employees haven’t had a raise in more than five years....

In Aurora, the state’s third-largest city, marijuana taxes are helping improve roads, pay off a municipal recreation center, and provide direct services for homeless men and women.  Aurora has nearly 20 pot shops and five grow sites, generating a projected $5.4 million in new taxes this year.

From the Los Angeles Times here, "Governor who called legalization 'reckless' now says Colorado's pot industry is working":

“The predictions of fire and brimstone have failed to materialize,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group working to reform pot laws.  “Most Coloradoans, including the governor, recognize that the law is working.”

From the start, [Colorado Gov] Hickenlooper saw the legalization of marijuana as a great national experiment, something utterly new in this country and fraught with potential public health and safety issues.  He fretted about a potential rise in drug use among children and was clearly uncomfortable with an amendment directly conflicting with federal law, which considers pot an illegal drug on par with cocaine.

There were plenty of snags at first.  Marijuana edibles proved especially problematic because few people had experience with them. High-profile overdoses made national news.  Just last week a lawsuit was filed against the maker of a marijuana-laced candy, alleging the product triggered a "psychotic episode" that caused a man to kill his wife in 2014.  Still, none of Hickenlooper’s worst fears were realized.

Colorado is booming.  The state has a 4.2% unemployment rate, one of the best in the country.  High-tech companies are moving in.  Small towns across the state, some once teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, have been saved by tax revenues from pot dispensaries.  And the $1-billion-a-year cannabis business will pump $100 million in taxes into state coffers this year.

Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination for Colorado, said the governor’s views reflect a growing sense of optimism about how the industry is regulated.  “In the short run, there have been a lot fewer public safety and health issues than the governor feared in the beginning,” said Freedman, who is often referred to as the state’s marijuana czar.  “In the beginning, we had problems with edibles and hash oil fires but now, for the most part, Colorado looks a lot like it did before legalization.”

Marijuana consumption has not changed much from pre-legalization levels and there has been no significant increase in public health and safety problems, he said.  As for the $100 million in tax revenue, Freedman noted, that's out of a $27-billion state budget.  Some 70% of the money is earmarked for school construction, public health initiatives and other projects.  The rest goes back into regulating the industry.  

“The governor has called this a grand experiment from the beginning.  He looks at data points as he goes along and I think he’s pleasantly surprised that there were not as many challenges as he thought,” Freedman said. “He would say the jury is still out on this experiment but he’s optimistic.”

Some are less circumspect.  “The state’s image is actually rising.  We were just ranked as the best place to live in America,” Tvert said.  “The idea that businesses would not relocate here or conferences wouldn’t be held here was untrue.  In fact, attendees at conferences are now offered pot tours as day trips.”

May 17, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Another way blanket federal marijuana prohibition impedes state efforts to craft wise cannabis laws

This new New York Times article, headlined "How Much Is Too Much Marijuana to Drive? Lawmakers Wonder," not only picks up on the recent AAA reports on marijuana impairment and driving, but also spotlights how federal law continues to get in the way of needed research on these issues:

As more states consider legalizing the substance, that presents a challenge to legislators seeking to create laws on driving while impaired by marijuana.

The study, commissioned by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, found that laws in six states that legally assess impairment by measuring how much THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) is in a person’s blood are not supported by science. “There is no concentration of the drug that allows us to reliably predict that someone is impaired behind the wheel in the way that we can with alcohol,” said Jake Nelson, AAA’s director of traffic safety advocacy and research....

The AAA study echoes the recommendations of many experts who call for the improvement of technology to evaluate drivers’ saliva for cannabis use.

Sean O’Connor, the faculty director of the Cannabis Law and Policy Project at the University of Washington, said that there was promising research into detecting cannabis through saliva and other techniques, but that it was being stymied by the drug’s legal classification as a Schedule 1 substance. “We are hamstrung by the fact that you can’t do legitimate scientific research unless you have a Schedule 1 license,” he said. His argument underlines the difficulty for states trying to write coherent policy when the drug is still illegal under federal law.

Prior recent related post:

May 14, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 13, 2016

New podcast from the National Constitution Center on "Marijuana and the Constitution"

Cover170x170Earlier this week, I had the great honor and pleasure of talking with Jeffrey Rosen and Randy Barnett as part of the National Constitution Center's "We the People" series concerning various constitutional issues related to the regulation and legalization of marijuana. The podcast is available at this link, and here is how it is introduced via that webpage:

Marijuana was first outlawed nationally by the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. Since 1970, it has been classified an illegal Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, listed alongside LSD, heroin, and other narcotics.

But in 1996, California became the first state to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, starting a cascade of changes at the state level. As of May 2016, 24 states and D.C. have legalized medical marijuana; four states — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska—and D.C. have also legalized recreational marijuana. In November 2016, more states, including Nevada and Maine, are slated to vote on the issue.

Join[] We the People to explore the constitutional issues at stake....

May 13, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Marijuana sales and tax revenues keep going up and up in Colorado ... while tangible new serious problems seem still not to have (yet?) materialized

This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Colorado pot shops have already sold $270 million of marijuana in 2016," reports that "in the first three months of 2016, Colorado's pot shops sold more than $270 million of marijuana and related products." Here is more:

The state’s latest data shows that its marijuana shops sold nearly $90 million of cannabis in March 2016. The licensed stores sold more than $55 million in recreational marijuana and more than $33 million in medical cannabis in March, the latest month for which the department has released tax data for the industry. Totals for retail and medical marijuana dipped slightly in March after a bustling February, which was the state’s fifth most lucrative month for sales since they began in January 2014, according to Cannabist calculations and state data.

March 2016 totals for recreational pot sales are up 30 percent from March 2015, which shows that “marijuana sales remain strong,” said Christian Sederberg, an attorney for the cannabis industry. “As the regulated system continues to work, we’re also on pace to have over $40 million in excise taxes, meaning there could be additional taxes available from the excise tax to be used for something beyond the public school construction fund.”

Among the taxes collected on retail pot sales is the school-funding 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers, which amounted to $3.5 million in March. One of the cornerstones of the campaign that successfully ran Colorado’s pot-legalizing Amendment 64 says that the first $40 million raised by that excise tax will go toward school construction projects. That specific tax totaled $13.3 million in 2014 and $35 million in 2015, and industry analysts — Sederberg included — say they are confident it will top $40 million in 2016.

Colorado marijuana outlets sold more than $699 million of product in 2014 and more than $996 million in 2015. Year-over-year totals for taxes and license fees grew too, from $76 million in 2014 to $135 million in 2015. There are three types of state taxes on recreational marijuana: the standard 2.9 percent sales tax; a 10 percent special marijuana sales tax; and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana transfers. For March, Colorado collected more than $11.3 million in recreational taxes and fees and more than $1.7 million in medical taxes and fees.

Intriguingly, this notable new Atlantic piece, headlined "The Failed Promise of Legal Pot: New laws on marijuana were supposed to boost tax revenues and free up cops to go after “real” criminals. But underground sales — and arrests — are still thriving," details that marijuana legalization in Colorado and other states has not yet completely eliminated the historic black-market realities of marijuana distribution.   Though I find useful this article's reminder that, even after legalization, there can be many persistent black market and prohibition problems, I also think the article highights reasons why we may expect marijuana sales and tax revenues to keep on increasing over time as more and more local marijuana consumers come to prefer engaging with the newer-and-always-innovating legal market over their older-and-surely-less-dynamic black market.

In addition to noting these sales and tax revenue trends, the headline of my post here is meant to flag the reality that we do not seem to have yet seen evidence of increasing serious new problems in Colorado to parallel the evidence of increasing sales and tax revenue.  If there were significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana and having robust retail sales, I think those harm would now start to become very obvious now nearly 45 months since Colorado voters enacted full legalization and 30 months into having retail outlets selling lots of this product.  Moreover, if there were  significant tangible short-terms harms that follow directly from legalizing recreational  marijuana, not only should they be evident by now, but they should be contining to grow and become even more evidence as legal sales continue to increase.

Critically, it is certainly possible that there are significant long-term harms for Colorado and elsewhere that can be linked directly to marijuana legalization and increasing legal sales, especially with respect to health concerns.  (The parallel here to tobacco should be clear: having lots of people smoke lots of cigarettes does not produce a lot of obvious short-term harms, but the long-term harms we now know are quite significant.)  But if sales and tax revenues keep going up and evidence of major problems are not yet materializing, it is going to be difficult to effectively campaign in other states against marijuana reform when the tangible cost-benefit realities in Colorado so far seem pretty darn good.

May 12, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NY Times debates "Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?"

The Room for Debate section of the New York Times yesterday had an interesting quartet of pieces discussing marijuana reform focused on the "gateway drug" notion. Here is the section's introductory set up:

The drive to marijuana legalization has grown more powerful as the crisis of heroin and opioid addiction has become more troubling. Now some officials say efforts to legalize marijuana should stop because, they say, greater availability would increase use and marijuana can be a gateway to the use of other drugs.

But is marijuana a gateway drug and, for that reason, should it remain illegal?

Here are the contribututions, with links via the commentary titles and the brief summaries provided by the Times:

April 27, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Colorado Department of Public Safety releases "Marijuana Legalization in Colorado: Early Findings"

This new Denver Post piece, headlined "Fewer Coloradans seek treatment for pot use, but heavier use seen," reports on this notable new official state government report from Colorado (which I believe was just released today, but bears a cover date of March 2016). Here is a basic summary via the Denver Post piece:

Colorado's treatment centers have seen a trend toward heavier marijuana use among patients in the years after the state legalized the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.  The 143-page report released Monday is the state's first comprehensive attempt at measuring and tracking the consequences of legalization.

In 2014, more than a third of patients in treatment reported near-daily use of marijuana, according to the report. In 2007, less than a quarter of patients reported such frequency of use.  Overall, though, the number of people seeking treatment for marijuana has dropped since Colorado voters made it legal to use and possess small amounts of marijuana.  The decrease is likely due to fewer people being court ordered to undergo treatment as part of a conviction for a marijuana-related crime.

The finding is among a growing body of evidence that marijuana legalization has led to a shift in use patterns for at least some marijuana consumers. And that is just one insight from the new report, which looks at everything from tax revenue to impacts on public health to effects on youth.  Among its findings is a steady increase in marijuana use in Colorado since 2006, well before the late-2000s boom in medical marijuana dispensaries.  The report documents a sharp rise in emergency room visits related to marijuana. It notes a dramatic decline in arrests or citations for marijuana-related crimes, though there remains a racial disparity in arrest rates.

But the report, which was written by statistical analyst Jack Reed, also isn't meant as a final statement on legalization's impact. Because Colorado's data-tracking efforts have been so haphazard in the past, the report is more of a starting point.  "[I]t is too early to draw any conclusions about the potential effects of marijuana legalization or commercialization on public safety, public health, or youth outcomes," Reed writes, "and this may always be difficult due to the lack of historical data."

It's not just the lack of data from past years that complicates the report.  Reed also notes that legalization may have changed people's willingness to admit to marijuana use — leading to what appear to be jumps in use or hospital visits that are really just increases in truth-telling.  State and local agencies are also still struggling to standardize their marijuana data-collection systems.  For instance, Reed's original report noted an explosive increase in marijuana arrests and citations in Denver, up 404 percent from 2012 to 2014.  That increase, however, was due to inconsistent data reporting by Denver in the official numbers given to the state.

Intriguingly, though this lengthy report comes from the Colorado Department of Public Safety, not very much of the report discusses general crimes rates at much length. But what is reported in this report is generally encouraging:

  • Colorado’s property crime rate decreased 3%, from 2,580 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 2,503 in 2014.

  • Colorado’s violent crime rate decreased 6%, from 327 (per 100,000 population) in 2009 to 306 in 2014. 

April 18, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cannabis Science and Policy Summit: on-site reporting from the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy

Download (1)I invited Sam Kamin, the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, to provide some reports or thoughts about his experiences today and tomorrow as he is participating in NYC at the The Cannabis Science and Policy Summit. Here is the first of what I hope might be a few on-site report from a very informed participant in this event:

The morning started with a cautionary tone. Jonathan Caulkins gave a plenary talk on the dangers of a profit-driven marijuana market. His thesis was that 25 years from now, policy makers will look back on this period and wonder what on earth we were thinking.

* He showed that half of marijuana is consumed by those who use daily and that, as with any industry, there will be a push from industry to grow that group.

* He argued that Americans spend 40 billion hours per year stoned and that we could easily expect that to double post-legalization.

* He called marijuana a performance-degrading drug. There's a reason we don't test chess players for pot to be sure they're not cheating.

In the questions and discussions in the hallway afterward, talk focused on possible alternatives to a market-driven legal market. The most concrete was David Courtwright's invocation of Sweden's Gothenburg public house regulatory system (limited number of licenses, a limit on maximum profits, etc.) as a model for marijuana regulation that minimizes social harm.

A fascinating (to me) issue is whether there is room for legalization's opponents (groups like SAM and policy wonks like Caulkins) and the cannabis true believers who started all this (DPA, MPP, NORML, etc.) to join forces against Big Marijuana.  Talking to Dan Riffle, I compared this to the Never Trump movement.  No one (except the eventual winners, whoever they will be) wants corporate marijuana, which looks like the front-runner at the moment.  The question will be whether various opponents, coming at that place from different directions, can find sufficient common ground to organize against the juggernaut and whether they can do so before things become inevitable.

For the record and to be a bit of an iconoclast, I consider myself something of a supporter of "corporate marijuana" at least in the short term for a couple of reasons.  First and foremost, in the arena of medical marijuana, I think we will only get lots and lots of needed dynamic and aggressive research on the potential of the cannabis plant if there is a significant profit motive driving the research. Second and not to be overlooked, I think there can and should be more external benefits (like job growth and tax revenue) flowing from a commercial marijuana marketplace if (and this is a big if) government if focused mostly on aggressively regulating the marijuana industry rather than excessively seeking to control/hamper its innovative tendencies.

April 17, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Marijuana Could Soon Be Rescheduled As A Less Dangerous Drug By The DEA, So Why Aren’t Cannabis Proponents Excited?"

DEA_rescheduling2The title of this post is the headline of this astute new International Business Times article, and here are exerpts:

After decades of intransigence on the issue, the Drug Enforcement Administration may finally recommend removing marijuana from the list of the country’s most dangerous drugs. That list was created as part of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970, which consolidated all federal drug laws into a single comprehensive measure and defined marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, alongside heroin, LSD and other drugs that the government says have no medical value and the highest potential for abuse. That meant marijuana was saddled with the strictest possible restrictions and penalties.

Ever since then, marijuana activists have been fighting to remove cannabis from that category. In 1972, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) petitioned the DEA to instead place marijuana in Schedule II of the CSA, alongside cocaine, meth and other drugs considered dangerous but with medical potential. Twenty-two years and multiple courtroom battles later, the DEA had a final decision: Marijuana would remain a Schedule I substance.

The DEA has rejected two other marijuana rescheduling petitions since then, but now there’s a glimmer of hope among activists that change could finally be in the works. As first reported last week by the Huffington Post, in a recent letter to a group of Democratic senators, the DEA referenced a 2011 petition to reschedule cannabis to Schedule II, noting, “DEA understands the widespread interest in the prompt resolution to these petitions and hopes to release its determination in the first half of 2016.” While there’s a good chance this determination will be no different than in the past, the country’s rapidly shifting cannabis landscape — with 23 states plus Washington, D.C., having legalized medical marijuana (and Pennsylvania poised to do so) — makes some people think the DEA could be ready to concede that cannabis has medicinal value.

But instead of being cause for celebration, the news has met with largely subdued reaction from marijuana activists and business owners. “Symbolically, one could say that would be a victory because you’d have for the first time the federal government acknowledging that cannabis does in fact have some therapeutic utility,” said NORML deputy director Paul Armentano. “But that by and large would be the extent of it. By moving marijuana from Schedule I to II, the federal government would still be putting forward the intellectual dishonesty that cannabis has a high potential for abuse and needs to be regulated accordingly.”

Such responses suggest it’s not just the DEA that’s shifting its position on federal marijuana laws. Marijuana proponents’ stance on federal cannabis rules are evolving, too. As the movement racks up one legal victory after another with little federal acknowledgement, there’s a growing belief that the cannabis crusade doesn’t have to settle for marijuana's move to Schedule II, for which it has long lobbied. Some even worry that such a rescheduling could in fact limit or derail a thriving industry.

A handful of drugs have been rescheduled like this before. Marinol, a synthetic version of marijuana’s psychoactive components, was moved from Schedule I to Schedule II, and then to Schedule III in the 1980s and '90s. But rescheduling is rare. According to John Hudak, deputy director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Effective Public Management, the DEA has rescheduled substances 39 times since the CSA was ratified 46 years ago, and only five of those instances involved moving a drug from Schedule I to II. Many drug policy experts aren’t optimistic that marijuana will soon be the sixth instance of this happening. After all, the DEA bases such decisions on existing marijuana research — research that has long been severely limited thanks in part to restrictions related to marijuana’s Schedule I status. Even if the DEA recommends rescheduling marijuana in the next few months, the change wouldn’t happen overnight; it would instead trigger a lengthy rulemaking process. “Even if the DEA comes out in July and says, ‘We are moving from I to II,’ it would still take about a year for that to happen,” said Hudak.

But if rescheduling does occur, some marijuana activists say there would be major repercussions. By acknowledging marijuana has medical use and placing it in the same category not just as cocaine but also Vicodin and Ritalin, the government would be signaling that times have changed. “This stands to be a legacy-defining move for Obama if his administration makes the right decision here,” said Tom Angell, founder of the cannabis advocacy group Marijuana Majority. “It would send a strong message to states that do not yet have medical marijuana laws on the books and a strong message to governments around the world that the U.S. government is now on board [with marijuana policy reform].”

The move wouldn’t just be symbolic. Moving marijuana to Schedule II would remove some of the logistical hurdles and academic taboos limiting cannabis research. It would also eliminate several of the bureaucratic hassles plaguing marijuana markets around the country because of the drug’s Schedule I status, such as confusion over whether publications with marijuana ads can be sent through the mail.

But as many marijuana supporters point out, shifting cannabis to Schedule II would not solve the biggest problems facing the nascent marijuana industry. Many unique barriers for marijuana research would still remain, such as the fact that all cannabis for such studies has to be obtained, via a lengthy and complicated approval process, from a single marijuana grow at the University of Mississippi that’s administered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “The big issue is Ole Miss’ marijuana monopoly, and this wouldn’t fix that at all,” said drug-policy expert Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute of Urban Management.

Then there’s the fact that the biggest headaches afflicting marijuana businesses, such as a lack of banking services and sky-high tax rates thanks to IRS section 280E, which prohibits drug dealers from deducting the costs of selling illicit substances, are due to laws that cover drugs in both Schedules I and II of the CSA. “Moving it to Schedule II really doesn’t accomplish a lot, and frankly it is not scientifically supportable,” said Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. “From a business perspective, it is unclear [if] it would have any impact on the banking situation, and it is specifically clear it would not have any impact on the 280E situation.”

Some marijuana advocates go further, worrying moving marijuana to Schedule II could actually make things worse. Could rescheduling open the door to Big Pharma moving in and taking over the industry? Or could it force all marijuana to be sold by prescription in pharmacies, doing away with the dispensary and recreational marijuana shop markets spreading across the country? “I think a risk that this creates is that it enables DEA to become more directly involved in the control of the current medical cannabis industry,” said Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. “And that many of the features of the current medical cannabis industry that the public appreciates and values could be lost or destroyed. The DEA would be able to write regulations of the production and processing and distribution of medical cannabis, and they could be quite onerous.”

Others believe such fears are unfounded. “I think if Big Pharma really wanted marijuana to be a huge part of its product line, you would have seen it push the government long ago to consider rescheduling,” said Hudak at the Brookings Institution. Hudak also doesn’t expect to see the federal government dismantling the current marijuana industry: “The state systems are so large, economically and in terms of the people who are served, and they have become entrenched. And frankly, it would be a tremendous enforcement action by the U.S. government to shut them all down, and it would likely be beyond the enforcement resources of the U.S. government right now.”

April 15, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Looking critically at the disproportionate impact that drug trafficking laws have on women (with emphasis on race, motherhood, and socioeconomic class)

The impact of the drug war on particular individuals and communities is a focal point for a student presentation this week in my semester-long OSU Moritz College of Law seminar on marijuana reform. My student provided this summary blurb to go along with the following links to background reading:

Between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in prison increased by 646 percent. And of those women, approximately 65 percent incarcerated in state prisons have a minor child; in comparison 55 percent of males in prison report having a minor child.  My presentation will focus on the disproportionate impact that drug trafficking and conspiracy laws have on women, with emphasis on race, motherhood, and socioeconomic class.  The discussion will be centered around the history of the war on drugs, incarceration trends of women, drug laws, and the familial consequences of incarceration.

Please read the following articles:

April 12, 2016 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

"3 Reasons to Doubt the DEA Will Agree to Reclassify Marijuana This Year"

The title of this post is the headline of this valuable new piece by Jacob Sullum at Reason which provides some needed context (and justified pessimism) in light of some press headlines suggesting DEA may be on the verge of reclassifying marijuana.   Here is how the piece starts and ends and its main insights in between (with links from the original):

In a memo it sent to members of Congress on Monday, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it hopes to announce by the end of June whether it has decided that marijuana no longer belongs in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the law's most restrictive category. The memo, first noted yesterday by Washington Post drug policy blogger Christopher Ingraham, has generated headlines such as "The DEA Will Soon Decide Whether it Will Reschedule Marijuana" and "DEA May Downgrade Marijuana From Schedule 1 Drug." Here are three reasons I think those headlines are misleading:

1. The DEA has a history of foot dragging in response to rescheduling petitions. This is the fourth time the DEA has responded to a petition asking it to reclassify marijuana.  It rejected the first three petitions from six to 16 years after they were filed.  The fourth petition, filed in 2009 by New Mexico medical marijuana activist Bryan Krumm, and the fifth petition, filed in 2011 by Christine Gregoire, then the governor of Washington, and Lincoln Chafee, then the governor of Rhode Island, are still pending....

2. Agreeing to reschedule marijuana would require a major change in how the DEA interprets the CSA. Schedule I is supposedly reserved for drugs with a high abuse potential that have "no currently accepted medical use" and cannot be used safely, even under a doctor's supervision. It is doubtful that marijuana meets any of those criteria, let alone all three. But the DEA has always insisted that marijuana cannot be moved until its medical usefulness has been confirmed by the kind of expensive, large-scale clinical studies that the Food and Drug Administration demands before approving a new medicine. While such studies have been conducted with marijuana's main active ingredient (which is how Marinol, a capsule containing synthetic THC, was approved by the FDA in 1985), they have not been conducted with the whole plant....

3. The Obama administration says marijuana will be reclassified only if Congress decides to do so. "What is and isn't a Schedule I narcotic is a job for Congress," President Obama told CNN's Jake Tapper in 2014. "It's not something by ourselves that we start changing." Last January, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest reiterated that Obama had no interest in administratively rescheduling marijuana:  "There are some in the Democratic Party who have urged the president to take this kind of action.  The president's response was, 'If you feel so strongly about it, and you believe there is so much public support for what it is that you're advocating, then why don't you pass legislation about it, and we'll see what happens.'"

Eric Holder, Obama's attorney general until last year — and therefore the official directly charged with deciding how controlled substances should be classified, a task that he, like his predecessors, delegated to the DEA — took the same line. Even when Holder said, 10 months after leaving the Justice Department, that marijuana "ought to be rescheduled," he added that "Congress needs to do that."

Although Gary Johnson is optimistic that the administration will change course this year, I see no reason to think the DEA's answer to the two most recent rescheduling petitions will be any different from its answer to the first three.

April 7, 2016 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

How does the legalization of marijuana in the US impact Mexican cartels?

The question in the title of this post is the query to be explored by an LL.M. student in my seminar this week. Here are the suggested background readings and materials she provided to set up this important topic:

Is the legalization of marijuana a better solution than a war on drugs?

My presentation focuses on the impact that the legalization of marijuana in the US is having in Mexico which is the biggest supplier of marijuana. Also, if the legalization of marijuana is a better solution that the drug war and how the US is supporting Mexico on this drug war. These are the articles I recommend my classmates to read:

U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond

Marijuana legalization is already making Mexican drug cartels poorer

Mexican marijuana farmers see profits tumble as U.S. loosens laws

April 6, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Looking closely at the history of marijuana propaganda

As students in my semester-long OSU Moritz College of Law seminar on marijuana laws and reform continue assembling readings on particular topics in preparation for an in-class presentation/discussion, this week we have a student taking a deep dive into marijuana propaganda past and present.  Here are links to assembled resources and his summaries:

"Reefer Madness: Mid-Century Anti-Marijuana Propaganda In Movies And Books"

This article provides a good timeline of early Marijuana propaganda and identifies some of the common themes underlying public marijuana education through the 1950s.  It also discusses the themes of racism underlying early marijuana advertising.

"From the Devil’s Lettuce to the Dropout Drug: The Evolution of Reefer Madness Propaganda"

Identifying the changing themes of government propaganda over the years.  Beginning with violent crime, shifting to laziness, health concerns, gateway drugs, and eventually focusing on youth access to marijuana in the modern day.  This article showcases the ways that government sponsored marijuana education has changed over the years as public perception of the drug also changes.

"In Debate Over Legalizing Marijuana, Disagreement Over Drug’s Dangers"

A Pew Research study showcasing attitudes towards marijuana based on age. A correlation can be drawn between reasons that a certain age group opposes legalization and the messages presented during their time.  The Silent Generation who was coming of age during Reefer Madness opposes legalization because of the perceived violent nature of marijuana, while members of Gen X oppose legalization because of the perceived health risks presented by marijuana.  A relation to their exposure to the “Your Brain on Drugs” campaign during the ‘80s.

"Ten Nights in a Bar Room vs. Reefer Madness"

Finally, a video I edited to try and capture the essential themes and messages presented in both Reefer Madness and Ten Nights in a Bar Room.  The two films have been edited down to try and present only the biggest anti-marijuana/alcohol themes in the movies.  If fellow classmates would like a brief introduction to what marijuana education looked like in the ‘30s I would hope this properly captures and showcases the political climate at the time.

April 5, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Big Marijuana": The Next "Big Tobacco" in 21st Century Modern Media?

The question in the title of this post is the query that defines the work of one of my seminar students who will be presenting on this topic to the rest of the class this week. Here is his suggested background readings and materials to set up this important topic:

General Overview Material

SAM: Big Tobacco 2.0 – Big Marijuana

"Kennedy: Are We Ready For Big Tobacco-Style Marketing For Marijuana?"

 

Background on "Big Tobacco" Regulation

FDA v Brown and Williamson, 529 U.S. 120 (2000).

 

First Amendment / Online Marijuana Advertising/ Commercial Speech Doctrine 

"Does The First Amendment Protect Marijuana Ads?"

"Marijuana Ads Banned On Google, Facebook And Twitter"

"Minnesota marijuana company battles Google over rejected ads"

Brown v Entertainment Merchants Assn., 564 U.S. ___ (2011).

 

Marijuana Perspective on Video Game Advertising targeted toward Marijuana Users

"The History of Marijuana and Video Games"

"How the F.B.I. Made 'Winners Don't Use Drugs' the Arcade Motto of the '90s"

April 5, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

"Whoopi Goldberg Launches Medical-Marijuana Products Targeted at Menstrual Cramps"

The title of this post is the notable headline of this notable Vanity Fair article, which serves as a very fitting follow-up to my students' recent class presentation on Women & Weed: Blazing A Trail Toward Nationwide Legalization.   Here are the details:

 Whoopi Goldberg has had it with cramps and had it with stoner jokes, and now she’s doing something about both. Goldberg announced Wednesday that she’s launching a medical-marijuana company with Maya Elisabeth, one of the leading “canna-businesswomen” in the field, with a line of products designed to provide relief from menstrual cramps.
The company, Maya & Whoopi, will offer cannabis edibles, tinctures, topical rubs, and a THC-infused bath soak that it describes as “profoundly relaxing.” Frankly that last one, even though your humble reporter is a man, sounds incredible.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, The View co-host said she wanted to create a product for women that was discreet, provided relief, and wouldn’t leave you glued to your couch. “For me, I feel like if you don’t want to get high high, this is a product specifically just to get rid of discomfort,” she says. “Smoking a joint is fine, but most people can’t smoke a joint and go to work.”
“This, you can put it in your purse,” Goldberg continues. “You can put the rub on your lower stomach and lower back at work, and then when you get home you can get in the tub for a soak or make tea, and it allows you to continue to work throughout the day.”
Goldberg has been outspoken about her medical-marijuana use in the past. In 2014, she wrote in The Cannabist about her love of her kush-filled vape pen, which she says gives her relief from glaucoma-related headaches without resorting to eating handfuls of Advil every day . “I started using the vape pen because I stopped smoking cigarettes about four years ago and discovered I couldn’t smoke a joint anymore,” she says. “The relief that I got with the vape pen was kind of different from what I got with smoking. I could control it much better.”
If it worked so well for headaches, surely it could be applied to other aches, so Goldberg got in touch with a couple of industry experts to see if there was already anything on the medical-marijuana market for cramps. They told her no, because it was seen as a niche. At this point in the interview, Goldberg stops to give an exasperated chuckle. “Hey, this niche is half the population on the earth,” she says. “This seems to be people flippantly blowing you off, which is what you get whenever you start talking about cramps. They weren’t thinking how do you target this? I have grown granddaughters who have severe cramps, so I said this is what I want to work on.”
Goldberg then got in touch with Elisabeth, the owner of the female-run medical-marijuana cannabis company Om Edibles in northern California, and the two were off to the races....  Goldberg stands by her product for the same reason she favors it over painkillers for headaches. She says you’ll be able to look at the ingredients on any Whoopi & Maya package and know exactly what’s in it. (Queen Victoria, by the way, supposedly used a marijuana tincture to relieve menstrual cramps, so it basically has the seal of approval from the British royalty.)
For those who don’t have much experience in the field, Whoopi & Maya will also include products with only cannabidiol (CBD), which lacks the euphoric effects commonly associated with marijuana. The whole line is scheduled to be available in April.  For now, thanks to the patchwork of state medical-marijuana laws and the continuing federal ban on the substance, it will only be available in California.

March 30, 2016 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues | Permalink | Comments (2)

Examining the modern intersection of the drug war and deportations (with a special focus on marijuana)

This week's presentation in my marijuana reform seminar is focused on immigration law and the "war on drugs."  My student will be presenting, I believe, some original empirical research; as background reading he suggested this 2014 Huffington Post piece headlined "The Drug War = Mass Deportation: 250,000 Deported for Drug Offenses in Last 6 Years."  Here is how this piece gets started (with links from the original):

The drug war has increasingly become a war against migrant communities. It fuels racial profiling, border militarization, violence against immigrants, intrusive government surveillance and, especially, widespread detentions and deportations.

Media and politicians have tried to convince us that everyone who gets deported is a violent criminal, a terrorist or a drug kingpin.  But a newly released, first-of-its-kind report shatters that notion, showing instead that the majority (some two-thirds) of those deported last year were guilty of minor, nonviolent offenses — including thousands deported for nothing more than possessing small quantities of drugs, typically marijuana.

The report, an analysis of federal immigration data conducted by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, details how roughly 40,000 people have been deported for drug law violations every year since 2008. That means that nearly 250,000 — one-quarter of a million — people were deported for nonviolent drug offenses in just the past six years.  A nonviolent drug offense was the cause of deportation for more than one in ten (11 percent of) people deported in 2013 for any reason — and nearly one in five (19 percent) of those who were deported because of a criminal conviction.

Much as the drug war drives mass incarceration, it also appears to be a major driver of mass deportation.  Indeed, the report reveals that simple marijuana possession was the fourth most common cause of deportation for any crime, and the most common cause of deportation for crimes involving drugs.  On average, more than 6,600 people were deported in each of the last two years just for personal marijuana possession, and overall, nearly 20,000 people were deported last year for simple possession of any drug or drug paraphernalia.

By contrast, relatively few of those deported were drug traffickers, let alone violent ones. “Convictions for drug trafficking accounted for only one percent of deportees recorded as convicted of a crime,” the report’s authors note, “while marijuana possession was more than three times that level.”

March 30, 2016 in Assembled readings on specific topics, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, March 17, 2016

"How Black People Are Being Shut Out of America's Weed Boom: Whitewashing the Green Rush"

Longform-original-24272-1458151819-7The title of this post is the headline of this terrific new BuzzFeed News piece authored by Amanda Chicago Lewis spotlighting how the marijuana industry has a notable look to it that ought to trouble progressives eager to see such an industry develop.  Here are a few extended exceprts from the must-read (and lengthy) article:

When Colorado’s first medical marijuana dispensaries opened in 2009, Unique Henderson was psyched. He’d been smoking weed since he was 15, and he’d even learned how to grow, from his ex-girlfriend’s father. He spent $750 on classes about how to run a cannabis business, and then he and a friend both applied to work at a Denver pot shop.

Then only his friend was hired. Henderson was more than qualified, so why didn’t he get the gig? His friend asked the managers and came back with infuriating news: Henderson was not allowed to work in the legal cannabis industry because he had been caught twice with a joint’s worth of pot as a teenager back in Oklahoma, and as a result he has two drug possession felonies on his record.

For most jobs, experience will help you get ahead. In the marijuana industry, it’s not that simple. Yes, investors and state governments are eager to hire and license people with expertise in how to cultivate, cure, trim, and process cannabis. But it can’t be someone who got caught. Which for the most part means it can’t be someone who is black.

Even though research shows people of all races are about equally likely to have broken the law by growing, smoking, or selling marijuana, black people are much more likely to have been arrested for it. Black people are much more likely to have ended up with a criminal record because of it. And every state that has legalized medical or recreational marijuana bans people with drug felonies from working at, owning, investing in, or sitting on the board of a cannabis business. After having borne the brunt of the “war on drugs,” black Americans are now largely missing out on the economic opportunities created by legalization.

Nobody keeps official statistics on race and cannabis business ownership. But based on more than 150 interviews with dispensary owners, industry insiders, and salespeople who interact with a lot of pot shops, it appears that fewer than three dozen of the 3,200 to 3,600 storefront marijuana dispensaries in the United States are owned by black people — about 1%.

At this rare and decisive moment in American history, state governments are literally handing control of a multibillion-dollar industry to a chosen few, creating wealth overnight. The pot trade has long been open to anyone with some seeds and some hustle, so there are more than enough cannabis experts out there to form a truly diverse industry — if only the laws weren’t systematically preventing thousands of qualified black people from participating....

Legalizing marijuana sounds revolutionary, but with every day that passes, the same class of rich white men that control all other industries are tightening their grip on this one, snatching up licenses and real estate and preparing for a windfall. First-mover advantage, they call it. That means that anyone who doesn’t make the risky leap to violate federal law and get involved now will miss out, forever. In a few years, when the land grab is over, the cannabis industry may become just another example in America’s never-ending cycle of racially motivated economic injustices....

Last year, Oregon made it easier to get past cannabis convictions expunged from people’s criminal records, partly with the goal of helping more people of color become eligible to participate in the recreational industry there. But attempts at giving anyone a leg up in the licensing process to account for past disparities have largely been unsuccessful. In Illinois, where people with drug felonies are not even allowed to be medical marijuana patients, the state gave a tiny boost to the licensing applications of minorities and women. But officials declined to say whether any of the applications that received the boost resulted in a license, as the records are not subject to disclosure laws. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland fought for a much more significant boost, but the state attorney general struck it from the law, saying it could be justified only in an existing industry with documented disparities.

The most promising legal attempts to acknowledge the disproportionate effects of marijuana prohibition are written into the 2016 recreational-use ballot initiatives in Massachusetts and California, which allow all cannabis felons to participate in the industry. In a groundbreaking turn, both initiatives also offer the closest thing possible to reparations for the war on drugs: earmarking tax dollars from the industry for job training and other programs in the communities that have been most affected by past narcotics policies — language designed to avoid the legal complications of explicitly mentioning race.

But even if California’s recreational-use initiative passes in November, the medical market there will still exclude most drug felons, a situation that frustrates California NAACP President Alice Huffman. “There are not many jobs out there for black folks,” she said. “There is an underground market for marijuana and a large part of our community participates in it. A lot of people in the inner city live on those drugs, and we don’t like to admit that.” Legalization, she said, “might be an opportunity for economic development for everyone in the community with a business mind.”

And yet many of the black people “with a business mind” who have tried to get involved in marijuana have already encountered the same racism and disproportionate policing as before pot became legal. BuzzFeed News spoke with over two dozen black cannabis entrepreneurs across the country and heard the same frustrations again and again: the secret decision-making that drives local politics, the unsavory euphemisms and selective application of existing law, and the maddening inability to distinguish bias from circumstance.

March 17, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

"The Art of Marketing Marijuana: How to make pot seem as all-American as an ice-cold beer"

Thumb_wide_300The title of this post is the headline of this notable new Atlantic magazine story.  Here is how it gets started:

In the summer of 2014, The New York Times published its first-ever marijuana ad.  The occasion was the enactment of New York’s Compassionate Care Act, which legalized pot for some medical uses.  The ad, a congratulatory note from a Seattle start-up, depicted a well-dressed, newspaper-toting man standing on his stoop while a young woman jogged past.  Both wore determined expressions; the man, according to the text, consumed marijuana “to relieve his MS symptoms,” and the woman used it “while fighting cancer.”  The ad made sense for its time and place.  Earlier that year, Colorado and Washington State had begun allowing the sale of recreational pot, and critics were warning that as more states followed suit, profit-motivated corporations could start marketing a lot of pot to a lot of people.  Savvy marijuana businesses, worried about confirming this suspicion, stuck to depictions of their most sympathetic users.

Pot’s image problem has since begun to fade, especially in states like Washington and Colorado.  Two more states, Oregon and Alaska, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and several others may soon have the opportunity to join them.  But the people who sell the drug are facing a predicament.  In a legal market, cannabis — the plant from which pot is derived — comes to resemble many other farmed products: One grower’s plant looks and tastes a lot like his neighbor’s.  (Some pot connoisseurs with sensitive palates can differentiate among strains of cannabis — and even among brands — but they’re as rare as the coffee drinker who can guess his beans’ origins.)  John Kagia, the director of industry analytics at New Frontier, which studies the marijuana business, is convinced that pot is becoming commoditized. In Colorado, the supply of marijuana flower is going up, and its cost down, partly because of technological advancements and larger, more efficient operations — just the kind of forces that have turned other products into commodities.

Pot businesses are, above all, businesses, and they’re responding as businesses do: with marketing aimed at convincing longtime pot users that their brand is better than the others—and, just as important, at increasing demand by encouraging curious nonusers to try their product first. In other words, marijuana companies would like to sell a lot of pot to a lot of people. “Now that marijuana has been legalized, we have the opportunity to market it to a mainstream audience,” Olivia Mannix, a co-founder of a marketing agency called Cannabrand, told me. But making good on that opportunity has required changing the way people think about the drug. In this regard, the early associations between pot and medicine—and hence harmlessness, even wellness—were helpful. Since then, the tactics have gotten more sophisticated.

Early on, Mannix and her business partner, Jennifer DeFalco, decided to avoid certain slang associated with old-school stoner culture—ganja, weed, pot, even getting high. Instead, in conversations with journalists and in ads for their clients, they use the pleasant-sounding cannabis. One dispensary chain they advised swapped out the off-putting metal safety bars on its windows for frosted glass. When Mannix and DeFalco design ads or logos for clients, they use a lot of white space and replace bright-green color schemes with cool grays and blues. “A lot of clients come to us saying they want to look like Apple,” Mannix told me.

March 15, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 11, 2016

An international perspective on the marijuana reform momentum (and its regulatory challenges) via The Economist

A terrific student in my marijuana seminar alerted me to this lengthy new article in The Economist headlined "Reeferegulatory challenge: A growing number of countries are deciding to ditch prohibition. What comes next?". The article merits a full read, and here are excerpts:

Since California’s voters legalised the sale of marijuana for medical use in 1996, 22 more states, plus the District of Columbia, have followed suit; in a year’s time the number is likely to be nearer 30. Sales to cannabis “patients” whose conditions range from the serious to the notional are also legal elsewhere in the Americas (Colombia is among the latest to license the drug) and in much of Europe. On February 10th Australia announced similar plans.

Now a growing number of jurisdictions are legalising the sale of cannabis for pure pleasure—or impure, if you prefer. In 2014 the American states of Colorado and Washington began sales of recreational weed; Oregon followed suit last October and Alaska will soon join them. They are all places where the drug is already popular (see chart 1). Jamaica has legalised ganja for broadly defined religious purposes. Spain allows users to grow and buy weed through small collectives. Uruguay expects to begin non-medicinal sales through pharmacies by August.

Canada’s government plans to legalise cannabis next year, making it the first G7 country to do so. But it may not be the largest pot economy for long; California is one of several states where ballot initiatives to legalise cannabis could well pass in America’s November elections....

Setting the right level for the tax ... is challenging. Go too low and you encourage use. Aim too high and you lose one of the other benefits of legalisation: closing down a criminal black market.

Comparing Colorado and Washington illustrates the trade-off. Colorado has set its pot taxes fairly low, at 28% (including an existing sales tax). It has also taken a relaxed approach to licensing sellers; marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks. Washington initially set its taxes higher, at an effective rate of 44%, and was much more conservative with licences for growers and vendors. That meant that when its legalisation effort got under way in 2014, the average retail price was about $25 per gram, compared with Colorado’s $15. The price of black-market weed (mostly an inferior product) in both states was around $10.

The effect on crime seems to have been as one would predict. Colorado’s authorities reckon licensed sales—about 90 tonnes a year—now meet 70% of total estimated demand, with much of the rest covered by a “grey” market of legally home-grown pot illegally sold. In Washington licensed sales accounted for only about 30% of the market in 2014, according to Roger Roffman of the University of Washington. Washington’s large, untaxed and rather wild-west “medical” marijuana market accounts for a lot of the rest. Still, most agree that Colorado’s lower prices have done more to make life hard for organised crime.

Uruguay also plans to set prices comparable to those that illegal dealers offer. “We intend to compete with the illicit market in price, quality and safety,” says Milton Romani, secretary-general of the National Drug Board. To avoid this competitively priced supply encouraging more use, the country will limit the amount that can be sold to any particular person over a month. In America, where such restrictions (along with the register of consumers needed to police them) would probably be rejected, it will be harder to stop prices for legal grass low enough to shut down the black market from also encouraging greater use. Indeed, since legalisation consumption in Colorado appears to have edged up a few percentage points among both adults and under-21s, who in theory shouldn’t be able to get hold of it at all; that said, a similar trend was apparent before legalisation, and the data are sparse....

Different places will legalise in different ways; some may never legalise at all; some will make mistakes they later think better of. But those that legalise early may prove to have a lasting influence well beyond their borders, establishing norms that last for a long while. It behoves them to think through what needs regulating, and what does not, with care. Over-regulation risks losing some of the main benefits of liberalisation. But as alcohol and tobacco show, tightening regimes at a later date can be very difficult indeed.

February 11, 2016 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Taxation information and issues , Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)